So what is Freestyle Football? To me its how I live, how I express myself and how I often communicate. My style of performance includes a great deal of other disciplines, a huge part of this is magic, other movements like parkour and stunts but performing amazing feats with a ball have been around for centuries. Let me take you on a short journey…
It’s difficult to pin point the exact moment in time where freestyle truly began as the word ‘Freestyle’ is relatively new and has been added to other sports. What really interests me is the ball and how ball sports have been around for a long time, in fact some of the ancient games with the ball have huge similarities to freestyle football today.
Over 2000 years ago games such as Chinlone, Jianzi and Sepak Takraw in Southern and South East Asia all embraced many skills that relate directly to the art and sport as we know it today, all these games were not focussed on winning but on expression and creating new movements and skills as a community very much like the freestyle community today. The players saw the ball as special, it represented the planets the sun and the earth so they took great care of the ball it was something to treasure and look after. It was the 20th century though that the tricks that we all know and love started to develop. One of my favourite games/activities is Chinlone, below are some ancient drawings of the game being played.
When you think about fundamental freestyle tricks such as catching the ball on the neck or doing ‘Around The Worlds’ These tricks where performed in the 1800’s by circus performers such as Enrico Rastelli and Francis Brunn (pictured below) If you watch videos of their performances today you can see many similarities to every modern day freestyler, in fact there is a brilliant video on Youtube of Enrico Rastelli with footage of what could have been the first ever ‘Around the World’!!
It wasn’t until the 1980’s that freestyle became strongly associated to football. Diego Maradona, probably the best footballer in the world at that time, was the first person to perform these fundamental moves on a global stage and this pushed football freestyle into existence. Two of my heroes and inspirations Mr Woo and Kang Sung Min, both South Korean freestylers, would train with a football for up to 8 hours a day developing this new found art form. Later it was Mr Woo who carried freestyle football through the nineties virtually alone, after a career in football he took to street performing his skills to become the first ‘Football Freestyler’ to perform in Las Vegas.
As the 1990’s approached a new game was introduced to the UK from Brazil by Simon Clifford. Simon realised that one of the key factors in Brazilian players being so comfortable on the ball was a game called Futebol de Salao, this was actually the original game that inspired Futsal that has become a global sport in its own right. Simon’s teaching of Futebol de Salao created a new bread of player that could perform skills that had never been seen before. as a 14 year old I came across the children that were training this way and it totally changed my perception on what was possible with a ball. From the late 1990’s into the 2000’s Freestyle went from strength to strength through NIKE campaigns, it was football players such as Ronaldinho that took things to a whole new level. Soon after Youtube was born, this gave players and performers around the world access to the best football tricks in the world. 2011 saw the launch of the Freestyle Federation (a governing body for the sport) and in my opinion the sport will keep moving from strength to strength.